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North Korea envoy ties food aid to human rights

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While six-party talks – hosted by China and including the US, Japan, Russia, and the two Koreas – deal with North Korea’s nuclear program, there is little prospect that North Korea will do away with its arsenal. North Korea has twice conducted underground nuclear tests, in October 2006 and May 2009, is believed to have fabricated material for up to a dozen warheads and is building a new reactor for highly enriched uranium.

Against this background, analysts believe North Korea sees negotiations as a wedge to obtaining food on the way to its goal of proving it’s a strong and prosperous nation.

“North Korea’s foremost concern is regime stability,” says Mr. Choi. The North “wants to consolidate the power transition to Kim Jong-un. It also needs to successfully hold political festivals next year. For all these, North Korea needs sufficient food.”

North Korea in February observes the birthday of leader Kim Jong-il, and in April the 100-year anniversary of his father, “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, who ruled for nearly 50 years before dying in 1994. Kim Jong-il’s third son, heir-apparent Kim Jong-un, celebrates what North Korea is saying will be his 30th birthday in January – though he’s believed to be two years younger.

So the pressing issue is how tightly to link aid to human rights in a society in which at least 200,000 people are believed to be held in a brutal and sometimes deadly “gulag system.”

South Koreans remain outraged by the abduction of several thousand South Korean citizens over the years since the Korean War. Most of the abductees were fishermen whose boats strayed into North Korean waters. At the same time, more than 21,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the war, and the numbers are steadily rising.

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